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Archive for May, 2012

I found my outer home when I was 46 years old, but even before that, I’d found my spiritual home.  This week, I’m fortunate to be able to reconnect with both while here at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC to attend the annual Haden Institute Summer Dream Conference.

Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, NC

I moved to the metro Atlanta area shortly after I graduated from college and lived there for 25 years before I ran away to the mountains in 2006 to experience life in a small, rural community that I’d loved visiting for many years. Despite having been born and raised in NJ, I knew as soon as I found the 100-year old farmhouse for rent that I’d come home. The house was surrounded by eight acres of gorgeous land with pastures, woods, a creek, a lake, and a completely picturesque barn up on the hill. Though its perfection was marred slightly by its close proximity to a busy road, I grew to love that house and believed with all my heart that it loved me too.

It wasn’t just the house, but rather the whole region that spoke deeply to me. The landscape itself felt sacred and my soul settled in there in a way it had never settled before. Spaces seemed to open up inside of me that breathed freer and sighed more deeply than was true in any other place in the world that I’d set foot.  Western NC is a landscape cut from the same topography – tapping into the roots of the Blue Ridge Mountains – and so it feels much like home as well.

I’ve been living in southern CA since last July, and though it’s a good place to be, and I know it is the right place for me to be right now, it’s not the place my soul likes to put its feet up and kick back with its eyes closed. It’s not the place where I feel most rooted.

The joyful icing on the cake is that I am here this week in NC to join with about two hundred or more seekers to talk about our dreams and our relationship with the Sacred. The people who come to this gathering know or at least suspect that there’s more to those night visions than the looking-glass-world flotsam and jetsam that appears at first glance. Those of us who’ve been turning over dreams and synchronicities like archeological treasures for a long time know that there are deep veins of wisdom and grace running through them if we’ll only take the time to look.

At a time in my life when I wasn’t sure I could even remain a Christian because I’d become so disgusted with the public expressions of the fundamentalist and politically power-hungry religion that was masquerading as Christianity, a friend brought me a different kind of archeological treasure – a book by Joyce Rockwood Hudson called Natural Spirituality: Recovering the Wisdom Tradition in Christianity. In this book, Joyce showed me how the Jungian psychology that I’d felt so resonant with could be integrated with my Christian tradition in a way that brought life to it again. I knew I’d found my spiritual home.

I’m here at Kanuga until Friday, and my plan is to take as long and deep a drink from this Living Water as I can possibly manage, and to take as many long, loving looks as possible at those mountains before I leave here; at least enough to last me until next year.

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I awoke this morning crafting this thought:

The true art of being human is to marry the spirit of growth and highest potential to the soul of depth and limitation, through the bonds of reverence, compassion, and empathy for oneself and all beings.

We have yet to master this art.

Oh, we humans have a lot of spirit. That spirit – the one that reaches for the heights – is the reason we’ve landed men on the moon and built towers of glass and steel that seem to go on forever. But it’s also the reason capitalistic societies have an economic system based on the falsehood of unlimited growth. It’s also partly why the world rips resources from the Earth at the rate of the equivalent of 112 Empire State Buildings every day. (Source:  The Worldwatch Institute, 2010 State of the World)

Photo: Sheri Kling, Aran Islands, Ireland

It’s not spirit that we lack. What we lack is soul. Soul is about depth. It’s about embodiment and the limitations that come with that. It’s about the limits of a real life lived on the ground with real relationships and deep roots. It’s about community and valuing what will last over fleeting intoxications.

To be truly human, we must have both spirit and soul, heights and depths, freedom and necessity, novelty and sameness. This is the marriage that must take place within each human in order for us to become as Real as the Velveteen Rabbit, to make peace with the tensions between spirit and matter, the pull toward the heavens and the force of gravity.

But don’t we all find this difficult?

We want endless choices – in everything from jobs and sexual partners to the number of jars of jam in the refrigerator. For me, this has been made manifest in a sense of restlessness, of never being able to be in the present tense in my own life, but always believing I’ll be happy when something else happens – when I find a romantic partner, when I achieve the right career, when I live in the right geography. It’s not that I don’t recognize the good things in my current life, it’s just that it’s always felt like there’s a hole at the center of me and I’d only feel better when it was filled by something.

Yet what if that something is just being willing to come home to myself? What if that tension between heights and depths, between spirit and soul, is the true human condition, after all – not something to concretize in one or the other, but a dynamic flowing union of yin and yang energies?

I heard an interview on National Public Radio the other day where a libertarian named environmental regulations as a stifling limit on innovation. Yet it seems to me that saying we can’t innovate within those limits is like a comic saying he can’t be funny without profanity. Both reflect a failure of imagination.

Ethan and Sarah Hughes have no such failure of imagination. Some years ago, they embarked on an adventure called The Possibility Alliance based out of their homestead in Missouri, where they have a constant flow of visitors learning about permaculture. They use no electricity or fossil fuel and live on $3,000 per year.  Ethan and Sarah Hughes may seem poor in cash yet they are rich in life.  And they live out more spirit and creativity within those difficult limits than most of us can even fathom.

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“Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”
~ Brene Brown

A dear friend sent me a link the other day to this TED talk on vulnerability by Brene Brown. I was so moved by her profound message that I thought the best thing I could do was just to share it with you. There’s so much wisdom squeezed into these 20 minutes that it’s truly worth stopping , grabbing a nice, warm cup of coffee or tea, and settling in to the banquet she offers.

Seriously.

 

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Source: Grace Cathedral website

I just walked into the womb of God.

At least that’s what the labyrinth spread out upon the floor of the chapel at the Claremont School of Theology became for me this evening. We’ve been exploring a different contemplative practice in our class each week, and this week was the practice of walking the labyrinth. For those who are not familiar, a labyrinth is a winding pathway that is typically walked in a meditative way as a means of deepening one’s relationship with God. Unlike mazes, labyrinths have no dead ends or high walls; their pathway leads in to a center and then back out again.

It is thought that labyrinths might have been used to take the place of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and their use in the United States has become more popular in recent years due, in part, to the work of people like Lauren Artress from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  Here at school, we’re in the final throes of our semester, and our canvas labyrinth has been installed in the chapel to help with stress reduction as well as contemplation.

We entered the chapel adorned with lit candles, icons, and music, and I entered the pathway with a prayer expressing my intention to welcome God’s presence.  At turns in the circuit, I imagined things I wanted to be rid of – ways of thinking that no longer serve me – and immediately felt tears stinging my eyes as I prayed to let them go.

Right foot spread from heel to toe, raised leg, and then left foot following suit; over and over again, I connected body to ground, body to ground, praying for a better connection between body and soul, and body and heart. As I rounded a turn near the illuminated icons, there was Mother and Child and I saw myself held in the arms of my Mother God. I was held still in her gaze for a long moment of deep connection.

And then I knew that I was not just walking toward the center of a labyrinth, but I was walking toward the womb of my Mother God, Mother Sophia, and that it was in Her womb that I would be fed and formed and finally birthed as a new being back into the world. Every turn now brought her loving presence deeper into my body, and I breathed in this new found joy. Mother Sophia! Mother God! Now the saxophone jazz was a celebration, now the prayers were praise, now the Love was right Here.

 

Sources: The Way We Pray: Celebrating Spirit from Around the World, Maggie Oman Shannon  (Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2001) and 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times, Teresa A. Blythe (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2006.

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